I counterfeit sleep but my flinch when a cup
in your claw bends and levels with me is real.
The best ceps grow on the north side of the churchyard,
you got the settee I’ve slept on these last nights
in a catacomb. I’m settling to the new currency
of our friendship, but everything I say comes out
tinny and clipped, too much small change. John Newman
was burned here in the square, in 1555, your sitting room
is freezing. That was for heresy, under Mary,
but counterfeiters—if they were women—also burned.
Describe your style (this could be limited to your writing style, or style, in whatever sense of the word you’d like to conceive it in, and how that relates to you as a writer).
I choose my clothes because they amuse me, or because I think they’re stylish in an abstract sense, not because they suit or flatter me. Probably the same is true of the styles I choose to write in. It’s a weakness. I’m thinking now of a TV makeover show with some horrible saccharine bully of a presenter wedging writers into the literary equivalent of control underwear, kitten heels and face-framing hairdos with natural-looking highlights.
What do you feel makes a poem ready for consumption by others?
My being fed up of it and not wanting to show it to anyone else. Especially true of performances. If you still like it, it isn’t done yet. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes succumb to the temptation of sharing unfinished stuff; social media makes that too easy for a showoff like me.
A good cup of coffee has the power to seduce. What role does seduction play in your writing (i.e. – is it a theme in your work? Do you seduce yourself into the act of writing? Or does the seduction come when someone is drawn to your work – are you out to seduce poetry readers? Does seduction have some other role entirely vis-à-vis your work, or, does it have no role at all?)
I think for me poetry is an erotic impulse. I cast myself in the role of lover, usually an unsuccessful one. I’m very interested in the troubadour culture of medieval Occitania, which produced our ideas of courtly love–of romantic love, ultimately (though that’s something of a simplification). I’m particularly interested in the trobairitz–female troubadours, who wrote very directly and frankly about being in love, about desire. I don’t seduce myself into writing. If I’m avoiding or not progressing with something, I usually go and make a cup of coffee and a firm purpose of amendment. I don’t think I want to seduce readers, exactly. I’d like to give them a good time.
At this moment in poems and writing, who’s writing the poems you like to read?
At random: Maggie O’Sullivan, Mark Burnhope, Harry Giles, Bobby Parker, Ira Lightman, Astrid Lampe, Lissa Wolsak, Philippe Beck, derek beaulieu, Warsan Shire, Tom Chivers, Gavin Selerie; for listening/performing, Jaap Blonk, Hannah Silva, Kate Tempest, Dylan Nyoukis.
Where do you do your writing? How important is ‘place’ and a sense of ‘space’ for a writer?
I work from home, where I have a little lair littered with dead mugs and coffee cultures. That’s where poems get finished, and where the duty work tends to get done: commissions, deadline stuff. I write more freely and associatively in libraries and cafés and pubs, surrounded by people. I like buzz around me that doesn’t necessarily demand that I engage. I like cities. The thought of a writers’ retreat in some isolated rural spot is terrifying. I won a week in one once. I didn’t go.
Stevie Smith once said that “poetry never has any kindness at all”. How true do you think this is?
Not at all. Some of the poetry I like best is kind: Blake, Burns, Keats, Whitman, Robert Browning, Ginsberg, Robert Duncan. On the other hand, some of the other poetry I like best is bitter and lacerating: Catullus, Thomas Wyatt, Milton, Swift, Rochester. Some harsh satire is kindness at its wits’ end. I think perhaps women poets aren’t encouraged in their kindness: if you think of the profiles of prominent women poets of the last century or so—Bishop, Plath, Marianne Moore for example, Smith herself, what’s prized is a sort of forensic acuity. Some notion of female poets as sentimental hangs on to the extent that our culture elevates the scalpel-wielders. But some women make poetry that is very kind; the late Anna Mendelssohn wrote poems of tremendous kindness that don’t relinquish the political. Kindness matters enormously in negotiating the artistic world, but whether it has much to do with art itself I don’t know. How strange would it be to say: sculpture never has any kindness at all, or dance never.
When it comes to writing poems, and how events are captured on the page, do you think it is better for the poet to suffer from excruciatingly good memory, or excruciatingly bad? (i.e. what role does the truth have in writing a ‘good’ poem?)
The question and the i.e. seem to me to be quite different things. I have a pretty bad memory for information, which is the the process of being destroyed entirely by the ready availability of online sources. You don’t want me on your pub quiz team, I’ll just repeat ‘The War of Jenkins’ Ear’ or ‘pi’ alternately until one of them turns out to be the right answer. I have quite a good memory for voices, sounds, smells, tastes, general turns of events, and a very poor one for faces and visual stimuli. I’m not sure how that all feeds into poetry, which is not necessarily an art of memory or event-capture, for me, but the making of a verbal structure, a piece of rhetoric (I hope in the ‘good’ sense of rhetoric.)
Truth is another thing. There’s the sort of truth which is effective communication, which gives you the sense of the speaker ‘put in to words’ something you were thinking or feeling. Which is quite a complex notion. I think the evidence that some sort of conceptual thought precedes language is overwhelming. Pre-verbal humans can be shown to conceptualize. Maybe non-humans too. But language acquisition complicates matters; we think in and through language, so what, if anything, does it mean to ‘put something into words’? And what are the attendant responsibilities?
I’m quite uncomfortable with truth-claims which seem to have proceeded from the via negativa of anti-subjective and anti-voluntarist positions, either as the consequence of those positions or as some sort of backlash against them. I’m troubled by some of the writing that J.H. Prynne has been doing about truth in poetry in the last few years, for example, although I respect and admire his poems.
Describe the last time you had a really stunning cup of coffee (or tea).
It was made Turkish (or Greek, or Arabic) fashion but the friend who’d made it for me forgot the sugar. I don’t usually take sugar in coffee, but it’s really necessary when you make it that way. It was a Sunday morning and I had one of those hangovers (pre-mixed margarita in a bottle, just say no) that feel like you took too much mustard, prickly head, and I was facing into an eight-hour train journey. I drank it in one gulp and felt like I’d been knocked into the middle of next year. I still had to sit on the train for eight hours though, feeling like I was in the middle of next year.
Black, Strong, or Sweet?
Sometimes none and sometimes all three. But no fence-sitting.
Kit Fryatt was born in Tehran in 1978. She grew up in Singapore, Turkey and England, moved to Ireland in 1999, where she stayed for 13 years. She now lives in Scotland. She co-founded the Wurm im Apfel events series (with Dylan Harris) in 2008, Wurm Press in 2009 and has run both solo since 2010. Recent books include Rain Down Can (Shearsman Books, 2012) and turn push | turn pull (corrupt press, 2012). Her collection The Co. Durham Miner’s Granddaughter’s Farewell to the Harlan County Miner’s Grandson is forthcoming from Knives Forks and Spoons Press.